An intellectually dense, but accessible 5-part story set in a future where the ruthless are set at the top of the food chain, lead characters Butch and Gun make for a perverse version of Butch and Sundance. Debuting to universal accolades, Ballistic connected with readers in a stronger way than Butch and Gun could with their intended targets in issue 1’s bank heist.
Now the pressure is on to follow up a Mortal Kombat style flawless victory debut with another solid second issue. And while Mortimer and Robertson know that it’s game on at this point, they maintain a humorous attitude about keeping up the momentum for what’s turned into the breakout hit of the year.
“I think it would be pretty cool if I die in a motorcycle accident tomorrow,” says Mortimer. “And the first issue would have all these great reviews, and I’d be dead. It’d be like Kurt Cobain or something.”
“Yeah…I don’t like that narrative at all,” says Robertson. “I don’t care if you write another comic book again. I don’t want you to die tomorrow.”
Quick to take the piss out of each other, Mortimer and Robertson are bonded by a friendship going back to Robertson’s days drawing Transmetropolitan. Their strong connection came out as they traded banter, seamlessly interrupted each other, and finished each other’s sentences – kind of like Butch and Gun without sucking holocaust or snorting drugs.
In a lot of ways, that seamless bond as creators also is at the heart of Ballistic. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a buddy story. Told by two buddies telling a story of connection, it works on multiple levels including the connection of birthing a story into the world.
“Well…I’m sitting here kind of using DNA as a metaphor, and that’s what Ballistic is about on some kind of level, right?,” says Mortimer. “So there’s the Mortimer/Robertson hybrid creature that’s responsible for Ballistic is made of our shared DNA. I really think there’s like one author to the book and it’s that weird mix…”
“I don’t agree with that,” says Robertson. “It’s whatever happens in our creative zeitgeist because we had ideas for this for so long since we started talking about it that it really flowed into each. He’s a very good friend as a collaborator because we have a long and very real friendship way outside of collaborating, yet we wanted to collaborate together as far back as when I was racking up Transmet(ropolitan). That’s when I lived in New York still.”
Working for MTV at the time as a freelance producer, Mortimer met Robertson when his boss asked him to bring in new ideas. A fan of Transmetropolitan, he met Robertson at Comic Con and eventually hooked up with him back in New York where Robertson pitched a few animation series ideas that he had been writing. From there, they forged a lasting partnership.
“The feedback that he gave me and the way he was open to my original ideas was really exciting to me at the time – A – because I thought maybe it was something that would end up on MTV, but mostly because I found a real, creative, kindred spirit,” says Robertson. ‘Adam’s a really open-minded person. Even if you have a bad idea, that bad idea would be considered in such a respectful way that by the time you realized it’s a bad idea I’ve gotten to that point before Adam has to say “it’s a bad idea.” But he’s also open to sort of that push and pull as well. I think that’s where what he’s talking about – that magic mixture happens…”
The conversation turned to the way an idea is nurtured and director John Stevenson’s attitude that “creative ideas are fragile and need to be treated as such,” which takes Ballistic’s genesis back to 2008 when Mortimer and Robertson were on their way to an Aquabats show in a pedi-cab where Mortimer had an idea for a story about a flying car with bat wings.
“He described that car, and that page 3 in issue 1, I’ve been thinking about that since that conversation,” says Robertson. “It was one of the most satisfying images. Still, right now, I’m so happy with the way that came out because I had the time to execute it the way I had been imagining it for years. I’m happy with that.”
And with that idea, Ballistic grew and grew into what would eventually become the story of the anti anti-hero Butch and his mouthy Gun in the bleak landscape of Repo City State – a place where only the strong survive. That shot from page 3 is just one corner of a section of something massive.
“What’s crazy is in my imagination, what you’re only seeing is that is how massive Repo City State is,” says Robertson. “It’s like you’re seeing Manhattan, a corner of Manhattan. There’s a whole world…He’s only flying over a corner of this place.”
While there’s still an ongoing discussion about what the future world of Ballistic consists of, Mortimer and Robertson are pretty quick to agree on what makes Repo City State the recycled, microorganism engineered island that it is.
“I really like the idea that Repo City State literally is an island that only the strong survive,” says Robertson. “This book is still in its infancy so keep in mind you might be hearing brand new shit. Whoever could make it there and then make it there…that’s why it’s run by gangsters.”
Influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s classic novel, Red Harvest, Mortimer took the man caught in the middle of warring gangster factions and put a more contemporary twist on it. This leads to the question of how far into the future is he and Robertson looking?
“We went back and forth on this,” says Mortimer.
“I’m going to pull a Transmet(ropolitan) on this one,” says Robertson. “I’m going to do what Warren did. I think it’s so smart not to name the year.”
“We don ‘t have to,” says Mortimer. “For me, I don’t think it’s the far, far future because I think the far, far future is too transformative to the human condition.”
The deeper this conversation goes, the more it becomes clear that writing Ballistic is an organic process that feels quite a bit like parenting a child. Again, the idea of collaboration and connection runs as a heavy undercurrent to the ongoing creative process Mortimer and Robertson continue to put into their story.
It’s this true to life approach towards creation that pervades the story on many levels. Especially around the middle of the story when Butch tries to woo Gennie at the Hungry Cannibal. His attempts at connecting with someone feel like the modern dating scene.
“It’s all based on reality,” says Mortimer. “I don’t know if we talked about this. I think we’ve talked about this before. So much of this sequence is based on real things that happened to me like real dates I’ve been on, put into this world. That’s really why I think people are responding positively to this book because it’s crazy big action and crazy technology, but really grounded in situations people…”
“That’s what I like most about Butch is that I wanted to humanize him and you wrote that…,” says Robertson. “I like that Butch is a lovable loser.”
Butch is reminiscent of the kid who learned everything he knows about fighting or picking up girls from watching too many movies or television. It’s his patently naive perception of life that forms him as a character into the loveable loser described by Robertson.
“He has this vast interest in gangster culture,” says Mortimer. “He talks about John Dillinger and Biggie Smalls as if they’re the same kind of person, which is like blending something that’s a complete fiction with some something that’s a historical fact. That’s his point of view on what those kind of people are like and probably the culture as a whole.”
Somewhere in the story, fiction and reality do a dance that moves at such a frenetic pace that it’s easy to blur the lines between the two with how Mortimer and Robertson suck reader’s in with Ballistic’s relatable ideas. That dance even has a soundtrack from Akira the Don.
“He did a theme song,” says Robertson. “He threw down a nice gauntlet. I love the song…I see this movie in my head being fun, dangerous in action but also the soundtrack to it would be entertaining as well as intense. If I was going to assign existing songs to it, it would be like late 80s punk and new wave…”
While Mortimer concedes he doesn’t “know if that’s the sound of the book,” he acknowledges that there is something in there that is at work.
“I feel like there’s a structured noise in my head that represents what the modern world feels like, says Mortimer. “You wake up first thing in the morning and immediately start looking at Twitter, seeing images of reptile cats shooting rainbows out of their eyes. You know what I mean? And when you translate that into a sound, I was hoping that the density of what we’re doing with this book would create that sound in your head.”
Harkening back to the Black Mask Studios panel they did the first night of Comic Con, the idea of music is something that keeps coming back up when it comes to Ballistic.
“I would love it if people, nobody’s ever going to say this about this book, but if this was the Yeezus of comic books, that new Kanye West album, which like I think is the most insane album of years and years. On one level of it, it sounds like super harsh electronic noise – like unlistenable electronic noise – but it’s also incredibly catchy. I listen to unlistenable electronic noise all the time, and my wife hates it , but she loves the Kanye West album. Somehow he’s made unlistenable, super harsh, electronic noise a catchy, fun, emotional experience.”
“I’d like to think our book fits that niche,” says Robertson with a laugh.
“I feel like Kanye’s always on the exact page of what pop culture is about,” says Mortimer. “I think we were maybe trying to capture that same kind of collection of feelings and ranges.”
Considering how madcap some of Ballistic’s story sequences run, it not far off the mark to consider how apropos Mortimer’s comments are. Rather than envision a future where mankind works in perfect harmony to solve the world’s problems, Mortimer sees something closer to mankind’s fascination at manipulating technology to our whims and desires.
“To me it’s just about…the use of technology is not about how do we take this technology and use it save the world,” says Mortimer. “It’s how do we take this technology, use it to help us get high, go on dates, and have sex…”
Sadly, there’s a keen observation of society in Mortimer’s words that reveals a truth. However, like any great story, Mortimer and Robertson hint at what promises to be an open-ended future for Ballistic where the story can still go in all sorts of directions, even beyond its slated five issues.
“I would love it if we could structure it in such a way…,” says Robertson. “It would be wonderful if you could come in, grab issue four and get a complete story and its characters, and then go back and find one through three, yet find yourself having completely enjoyed number four as it its own entity. That would be ideal to me.”
And just like that, the pressures back on for Mortimer and Robertson when the next issue of Ballistic comes out on July 31st. Rest assured, it seems highly unlikely Mortimer and Robertson won’t deliver. In the meantime, enjoy the Ballistic theme song courtesy of Akira the Don below.